Recording A Public Board Meeting is “Intimidating”

May 3 Board Meeting

For some reason, I was told it was an accident, the broadcast of the board meeting tonight on eTV was cut off just as Citizen Comments were about to start. (And yes, for the record, I believe that it was an accident.)

There was little to no indication of this in the meeting, but I received many texts, tweets and Facebook comments concerning this. After I completed my comments, which I’ll post below, Dr. Wardynski indicated that he wanted to respond to my comments about spending more money on Instructional Assistants. He was asked to wait since there were other comments to follow mine.

Dr. Wardynski decided to wait to respond.

As my typical readers know, I like to make an attempt to capture Dr. Wardynski’s comments exactly as he shares them.

Knowing that the recording had been cut off, I decided to record the superintendent’s response. As my iPhone’s battery was running low, I got out my iPad to record it.

This is allowed under Alabama’s Sunshine Law:

“A meeting of a governmental body, except while in executive session, may be openly recorded by any person in attendance by means of a tape recorder or any other means of sonic, photographic, or video reproduction provided the recording does not disrupt the conduct of the meeting. The governmental body may adopt reasonable rules for the implementation of this section.” Alabama Code Section 36-25A-6.

I was not standing, moving, or blocking anyone’s view with my recording. I do not believe that I was disrupting the conduct of the meeting in anyway. I was not talking, and the video makes no sound. Furthermore, the meeting continued even while Mr. Lankford of security was asking that I turn off the recording and step outside to discuss it.

I complied with his requests.

I was told that I could not record the meeting because it was an intimidating action on my part. And since I had done other intimidating actions before, (referring to the time when I stood silently for about 80 seconds at the end of my comments waiting for an answer), I would not be allowed to record the meeting.

It seems that the board and the superintendent are intimidated by someone attempting to convey their thoughts and ideas to others.

{By the way, yes, those are cameras that you see in the background over Dr. Robinson’s right shoulder. I did not attempt to use them.)

__________

I spoke with Mrs. Morrison after the meeting was over. I told her what had happened, and I offered her my apology if my actions intimidated her.

The former principal laughed. Which was nice.

After the meeting I also ran into Mr. Brooks, the board attorney. He offered me his hand and said, “Good job.”

The school board attorney didn’t seem too intimidated by a parent in a purple tee-shirt.

Before the meeting began, and granted, before I recorded any portion of the meeting, Mr. Blair sat down beside me and asked how things were going with my family.

He and I had an extremely pleasant conversation in which I shared with him much of what I planned to say during the public comments. He was compassionate and sympathetic.

He was also friendly and funny.

I greatly appreciated his time and willingness to engage me in a conversation.

He did not seem to be intimidated. (I suspect that as Mrs. Morrison had done, he would have laughed if I had asked him if I was a intimidating him.)

Although I had spoken during the citizen comments, and yes, I did make eye contact with Dr. Wardynski while I was thanking him for coming to the Autism Awareness Month kickoff and the PTA Reflections Award Luncheon in Mobile, I don’t believe that I was threatening in any way in my comments. Feel free to judge for yourself. (Since the board broadcast was turned off, we don’t have a video recording of these comments.)

Dr. Warydnski, I want to thank you for your presence at the Autism Awareness Month kickoff at Hampton Cove Middle School on April 11th. I also want to thank you for your presence at the State PTA Reflections awards this past Saturday in Mobile. Your support of those of us with children on the spectrum and of the arts is greatly appreciated by myself and my family.

I’m here tonight to ask for a little more help.

At the January 19th board meeting, I shared with you and the board just a few of the never-ending changes in my son’s classroom at Challenger. That night I mentioned the revolving door of aides, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, and even an entirely altered classroom.

As we saw with my son this weekend in Mobile, he doesn’t handle change well, and yet change seems to be forced upon him non-stop in his classroom.

Since I reported this to you in January, the rate of change has increased. In February, both of his aides, or two-thirds of the adults in the classroom were take out of his room. So the revolving door of aides continued into the second half of the year.

Then after a little more than a month another of his aides quit to take a better paying job. This isn’t at all surprising since EPSCO aides make approximately nine dollars an hour without benefits.

Honestly, a McDonalds employee has a better deal. McDonalds offers their employees health insurance and retirement.

Is it any wonder that the aides are so quick to leave?

It’s more surprising that so many of them returned from last year when they took about a $2.00 an hour pay cut to keep working with our kids.

We have to do better. Our kids deserve better. Change hurts everyone including those who aren’t on the spectrum.

For example, my daughter came home in tears on Monday because of the radical changes that are being planned for Mt. Gap Elementary. she’s losing “her” library, and that breaks her heart.

Dr. Wardynski, we need for these things to be resolved now. At the March meeting with the Mt. Gap PTA, you told us that you would be announcing who our new principal would be, and I quote, “in the middle of April.”

It’s now May 3rd, and we still don’t know. And our teachers still can’t plan for next year. And our little girls are still coming home in tears.These words don’t seem intimidating to me, but clearly I’m not a good judge of that.

So, as a public service, I would again like to offer my assurances to Dr. Wardynski, Mrs. McCaulley, Mr. Blair, Mrs. Morrison, Mr. Birney, and Dr. Robinson and anyone else who regularly attends board meetings that it is not my intention to make you feel intimidated.

I’ll fully own up to my intention to pay attention and to question what you do. I’ll also own up to my intention to speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. But it is not my intention to intimidate you in any way.

Fear and intimidation are a coward’s approach to getting what he wants. I’m attempting to reason with the district’s leadership. Nothing more.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

7 Comments

  1. This intimidation story is getting pretty silly. I can’t believe holding an iPad in your hands and silently recording a public meeting would be intimidating. Were you frowning at them? 🙂

    I wonder if the Mayor and City Council have the same “intimidation rule”?

    The Huntsville Times has always been very vocal over Sunshine Law violations. This is somthing they should look into before the board bans the public from their meetings altogether.

    Do you know if Dr. Wardynski responded to your comments after you left the room?

    Did you hear any of the other citizen comments?

    By the way, not a word of your comments sounded intimidating to me…just asking for answers to the problems caused by endless months of frustrating changes.

    Hang in there!

    1. I suspect that they are indeed aware that I was asked to leave. I was sitting directly in front of them at the meeting last night. I did hear the majority of the comments that were made, and yes I heard Dr. Wardynski’s response to my commments. A quick summary would be, “politician speak.”

      Thanks. I am.

  2. I agree with Carolyn. You need to talk to a member of the media about this because what they did was illegal. They’re actually trying to intimidate and bully you so that they can do their business in the dark with no one to question them. I wish you would name the board members who are so insecure: I’m going to go on a big hunch and assume that one of them is Dr. Robinson. To be honest, she should be insecure in one respect, because this will most likely be her last term on the Board.

    1. I don’t know of anyone on the board that is specifically intimidated by me. I asked Mr. Lankford for that information, and he responded that “the board” was intimidated. He refused to be more specific.

      I have not spoken to or heard from Dr. Robinson, my board member, in nearly a month.

  3. If only you had been wearing a hoodie rather than a purple tee-shirt, this would have been absolutely perfect. I know it’s warming up, but still, next time. . .

    I was reading the paper while walking the dog this morning. When I got to W’s claim that a guard shack = a welcome center, I doubled over with laughter.

    Then there was W’s fangirl’s remark that only 2 of her constituents had comments regarding the fence. I said aloud, well DUH!!! There are those in her circle who I expect would like to see a razor wire fence from Andrew Jackson, to Pratt to Washington to Holmes to Rideout and up to Bob Wade.

    AND THIS MORNING I WITHDREW MY DAUGHTER FROM THE HUNTSVILLE CITY SCHOOLS!!!!!

  4. “Before the meeting began, and granted, before I recorded any portion of the meeting, Mr. Blair sat down beside me and asked how things were going with my family.
    He and I had an extremely pleasant conversation in which I shared with him much of what I planned to say during the public comments. He was compassionate and sympathetic.
    He was also friendly and funny.
    I greatly appreciated his time and willingness to engage me in a conversation.
    He did not seem to be intimidated. (I suspect that as Mrs. Morrison had done, he would have laughed if I had asked him if I was a intimidating him.)”

    When I read this, I kept wondering why David Blair would do this, I suspect because he knew what was coming and wanted it seem like he was out of the loop.

    http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/security_officer_forces_parent.html#comments
    Blair said he only learned of the incident when contacted by the media Monday.
    “There are so many things going on at the board meetings,” Blair said, “that I don’t sit there and look for intimidation and threats.”
    Blair said he’s always found Winn to be pleasant and cordial. He did say, however, that some people at the December meeting found Winn’s minute and a half of silence uncomfortable.
    “I didn’t, but I think other people may have found it upsetting,” Blair said. “It was kind of awkward.”
    When asked if he agreed with Lankford’s decision to stop Winn from recording the meeting, Blair declined to discuss it.
    “I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback the actions,” Blair said. “We’re there to do the business of the board, to move the school system forward. I’m not going to second-guess Al’s decisions.”

    Somebody is lying

    http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/security_officer_forces_parent.html#comments
    The metal detector that appeared Thursday night was also implemented upon Lankford’s suggestion. He told The Times that night that district officials were “tired of getting threats.”
    McCaulley said she was not aware of any specific threats made recently against the district.
    “I know during the time that the RIFs were going on, there were threats at that time,” McCaulley said, referring to reductions in force that were conducted by district officials this past spring. “I didn’t see them, but they were related to us by our security officers.”
    The RIFs, which resulted in more than 400 layoffs, were finished months before Wardynski became Huntsville’s superintendent. He began his job July 5.
    Harry Hobbs, a Huntsville police spokesman, said Monday that the department has no open cases involving threats against the city school district.

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